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‘Operation Hope’ – a launching pad for small businesses

For small business owner Charles Hill, Trudy Morrison – Operation Hope financial counselor with First Tennessee Bank – is a point of reference for understanding where he is today.

“I met Ms. Morrison when I was enrolled in a training program for entrepreneurs at Advance Memphis,” said Hill, owner of Atina Labs. “She was a guest speaker in one of our classes. I began sharing with her about my dream of opening a business for drug testing, and Ms. Morrison invited me to take the Operation Hope classes for entrepreneurs.

“I told her, ‘I just finished a program for entrepreneurs.’ Well, she talked me into it, and I’m so glad she did. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today as a business owner.”
The Operation HOPE Entrepreneurial Training Program is a partnership between Operation HOPE, COGIC Urban Initiatives and First Tennessee Bank.

“It is thrilling to witness the early success and impact of our Entrepreneur Training Program because of our Operation Hope partnership,” said Steve Swain, manager of Operation HOPE programs for First Tennessee. “We are encouraged to continue broadening our support of small business entrepreneurs.

“Providing instruction in financial literacy and promoting fiscal health will empower underserved communities to reach financial independence. There is great value and dignity in working toward financial independence.”

April is “Financial Literacy Month,” and Morrison said there is no better time for dreaming dreams of business ownership.

“I guess all of my life, I have been a coach,” said Morrison. “I love interacting with students and watching their dreams become reality. We have a wide range of students, and it seems their greatest challenge is they just don’t know where to start. A great first step is pursuing financial literacy with Operation Hope.

“It’s so gratifying to see someone like Mr. Hill finally see his life-long dream come true. If you believe in your dream and are willing to work through the process, I believe anyone can be successful in starting their own business.”

Even after they graduate from the 12-week Operation Hope program, Morrison continues to shepherd students “through the process.”

Eddie Gatewood, proprietor of Soulful Sounds Productions, said Morrison called him last week, “checking on me and my new business. She said I needed to get back in to see her so we can look at some things.

“She’s going to help me revise my business plan. It encourages me so much to see that someone who understands the challenges of establishing a new business is there to help every step of the way.”

Atina Labs opened its doors after Hill’s retirement. The Hot Springs, Ark. native first worked 10 years for Hot Springs Water Company and retired. Next, Hill read meters for five years at Arkansas Power & Light. He then moved to Memphis to work for Memphis Light Gas & Water for the next 20 years.

After retirement, Hill focused on opening a substance abuse testing facility.

“I was always interested in drug testing since we were always being randomly tested at work,” said Hill, a certified Breath Alcohol Technician, Urine Drug Screen Collector and Hair Drug Screener.

“After retirement, I did some research on how to obtain certification in alcohol and drug screening. When I finished that, I knew it was time to get educated about the business side of being my own boss. That’s where Ms. Morrison and Operation Hope became so invaluable to me.”

Hill’s desire to work for himself was fueled by his mother, Irene Holt, who owned a restaurant, sports bar and a fish market to provide for her children. He learned hands-on how to read and how to count money while working at her side.

Now when he speaks to aspiring entrepreneurs, Hill encourages them to “move past the fear of failure,” just as he was able to, and to be relentless in pursuing business ownership.

“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” Hill said. “Many people make the mistake of opening their business without a business plan or anything. Ms. Morrison taught me how to do a spreadsheet, write a business plan and form my ‘elevator pitch.’ That’s a 30-second sales pitch that every successful business needs. I wouldn’t have known those things had I not been taught them.

“The training program helped me to shape my vision, conduct market research, understand credit and accessing capital,” said Hill. “These new skills in advertising, accounting and networking will drive my business to growth and success over time.”

(For more on Atina Labs, call 901-201-1123.)

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